Eastwood: Absence of Local Institutions Demands Protection for Both Traditions
"Here we are almost a year without Government in the North and without any credible offerings from the DUP or Sinn Féin on how to break the deadlock. A sceptic would have to ask are the DUP and Sinn Féin even interested in breaking the deadlock?
"It is very frustrating that we have arrived at Christmas only to have been gifted Direct Rule by the DUP and Sinn Féin's failure.
"While the DUP may be happy with Theresa May lining their stockings this Christmas, the rest of us certainly are not. As for Sinn Féin, they may recite their empty mantras on rights and equality but in reality they have left the delivery of a 'rights based society' in the hands of the British Government.
"The SDLP is clear, there can be no return to British direct rule. As I said in January, maintaining balance between the British and Irish traditions in Northern Ireland is what underpins all of our political agreements. In the absence of local institutions, the only way to achieve that balance means a structure in which both the Irish and British Governments hold joint authority over major political decisions in Northern Ireland.
"It will come as no surprise that the SDLP’s first choice and first objective has always been and will always remain the restoration of our devolved institutions. The logic of this position is simple and it was endorsed by the Irish people, north and south, in 1998. We believe that local decisions on behalf of local people are best made by our local institutions.
"However we agree with the Tánaiste, if the DUP and Sinn Féin continue to fail to show leadership and deliver an agreement, political decisions will need to be made to protect our people and our public services.
"Joint stewardship was proposed by the two governments as far back as April 2006. It is not a new idea, nor is it an unreasonable idea. Those who suggest that joint stewardship of the North somehow goes against the principle of consent are fundamentally wrong. The alternative of joint Tory/DUP direct rule from London would radically undermine the principles of the Good Friday Agreement.
"It's important however to remember, that the DUP and Sinn Féin have a choice, they can restore partnership and power-sharing. Instead of using the Good Friday Agreement as a soundbite, they should recall its spirit. Neither party is powerless and they shouldn't pretend that they are.
"As we look towards 2018, it's my hope that both parties remember there is simply no point having big mandates for power, if you won't use that power to do anything."